Facts About Smoking In The UK

Looking for facts about smoking in the UK? Find facts, figures and statistics of smoking and cigarette usage below, including a brief look at the history of smoking and tobacco products. 

The History of Smoking and Tobacco in the UK

Tobacco was introduced to the UK from the “New World” in the 16th century.

The accepted “official” date of the arrival of tobacco in England is the 27th of July 1586, when Sir Walter Raleigh is said to have brought tobacco from Virginia. However, it is likely that tobacco had been introduced before then, as Portuguese and Spanish sailors had smoked tobacco for many years prior, likely sharing this with English sailors too.1

The first commercial shipment of tobacco was sent to England from Jamestown in 1614.1 Cigarette smoking grew in popularity after the outbreak of WWI, as pre-packaged cigarettes were easier to consume in trench conditions.2 In 1915 alone, British soldiers and sailors smoked 1,000 tons of cigarettes and 700 tons of pipe tobacco.3

Smoking Laws and Regulations in the UK

There are many laws and regulations on the advertising, sale and consumption of cigarettes in the UK, which have evolved over time. 

Tobacco advertising is heavily regulated in the UK. Starting with an advertising ban on TV and radio, over time, legislation restricting advertising has progressively expanded. 

The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 banned advertising in print media.

In 2007, it was made illegal to smoke in enclosed places in the UK.4 The ban was put in place as a result of a long campaign, starting in the 1950’s, demonstrating the link between smoking and lung cancer.4 The ban includes: 

  • Pubs
  • Bars
  • Offices
  • Public transport
  • Public indoor public places 

​​​Statistics of Smoking in the UK

Take a look at some interesting facts about smoking in the UK, below. 

In 2021, there were an estimated 6.6 million adult smokers in the UK - making up 13.3% of the recorded UK population.5 This has been the lowest reported number of adult smokers since 2011.5 

More men in the UK smoke than women, with 15.1% of men smoking and 11.5% of women smoking in 2021.5 By age bracket, the highest proportion of adult smokers in 2021 were aged 25 - 34, at 15.8%.5 The lowest were aged 65 years and over, at 8%. 5

Of the constituent countries, in 2021, the highest proportion of adult smokers was in Scotland (14.8%) and the lowest was England (13.0%).5 Wales and Northern Ireland reported 14.1% and 13.8% of adult smokers, respectively.5 

The Rise of Alternatives to Smoking in the UK

The decrease in adult smokers could be partly attributed to the increase in vaping and e-cigarette use.5 E-cigarettes became available in the UK around 2007.6 And the UK’s first heated tobacco product - IQOS - was launched in 2016. 

IQOS heated tobacco products are a smoke-free alternative to cigarettes. ​Unlike cigarettes, IQOS does not burn tobacco and therefore produces no smoke. ​​IQOS provides real tobacco taste and satisfaction.

Discover IQOS and find out more about this smoke-free alternative. 

Note that smoke-free products are not risk-free and deliver nicotine, which is addictive. IQOS is not an alternative to quitting and is not designed as a cessation aid. 

Some of the information in the following blog is based on external, third party sources and is for educational/informational purposes only. Such content is not intended to be representative of the products sold on this website.


1Historic UK - Introduction of Tobacco to England 

2Points History - World War I, part 5: Tobacco in the Trenches 

3History Today - Smoking in the First World war

4Navigator Health - Smoking Ban in England 

5Office for National Statistics - Adult Smoking Habits in the UK: 2021

6Public Health England – Electronic Cigarettes

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